How corruption killed Mahi

There was a little girl named Mahi. It was just any other day in her life until she went outside to play and fell in an illegally dug borewell, fell 70-feet deep to her death. People think it is the borewell and the fall that killed Mahi. Actually it was a monster with a thousand heads who murdered her. That monster has its tentacles spread all over the place and is eating away the roots of the Indian society. That monster is called ‘Corruption’ and it is Corruption that killed Mahi.

This is not the first time something like this has happened. I remember at least 2 other similar incidents that became national headlines at different times. Two other kids who fell in borewells and remained stuck there for days. Army was called for rescue, tunnels were dug to reach the children and news channels ran live telecasts of the rescue operations. One of those kids was rescued, I do not remember what was the fate of the other.

Whenever something like this happens, people are shaken by the tragedy. They talk about it for a while – in newspapers, on TV talk shows, and then they forget. We the people are very forgetful you see, but then it’s not really our fault. New issues come up, we forget about the old ones and start talking about the new. We like talking a lot, mostly talking, no doing. Take for instance Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption crusade. People went crazy for a while, going gaga over Anna, holding debates on social media platforms, even changing their profile pictures to support Anna. And then what happened?

All of these people who “supported” Anna, I want to now go back and ask them. What change did they make in their own lives to make sure they do not feed the Corruption monster? Do they refuse to bribe the traffic policeman to avoid getting a challan (ticket) when stopped for breaking a rule on the road? Are they bold enough to not pay any money to the police walla who comes for their verification so that they can get a new passport, and bear the consequences? Did we suddenly stop building encroachments on our properties thinking we will be fine if we throw someone some money to keep their mouth shut?

I doubt if any of these happened. These small acts of corruption may sound harmless – who cares if you can get something done quickly by shelling some money – look at the example we are setting for the future generations. We are basically telling them that 1) it is okay to break the law as long as 2) you can bribe someone to let you get away with it. Just yesterday, I was watching the movie “Ferrari ki Sawari” (a ride on the Ferrari). It’s the story of an honest man who is compelled by circumstances to do something wrong to get the money he badly needs. There was one particular scene in which the guy and his son are riding on his scooter and he accidentally jumps the red traffic light. There was no traffic police in sight to stop them, so this person went to the nearest control room and offered to pay the fine. When the cop on duty asked him why had he come to pay the fine when no one was even watching him, he said – “There was someone watching me. My son.”.

Granted movies are a little over the top, but even in real life, we mock people who are honest and actually punish them instead of appreciating and rewarding them. I know that because I have seen that happening, up close and personal.

I now live in a place where kids, their safety and well being of people in general is given utmost importance. I have been here 4 years, but still feel a lump in my throat sometimes when I see all the traffic stop on the road when a school bus stops, to let the kids get down and cross the road safely. I can’t help but think of places in the world where kids die of malnourishment because some corrupt officials sold the food that was meant for the children, where Mahi had to die on the day she turned five because someone else did not want to follow the rules. I wonder why something as simple as following the rules is so difficult for us. And I hope that one day, we will be free from monsters like corruption who kill our children and kill the society. One day, that day will come.

Advertisements

I’m proud of you because…

Haven’t all parents said this to their children at some point? Maybe not in the same words, but the underlying meaning is the same. I’m proud of you because you were good. I’m proud of you because you got such good grades. I’m proud of you because you played well. You get the idea.

I say that to Vivaan too sometimes. He has been learning karate since last 3 months now and is doing much better than when he started. ‘Better’ is of course a relative term. In this case it means he listens to the sensei 90% of the time, does not stop in the middle of the class to stare at what other kids are doing, play with his belt or worse, with the much more interesting stuff inside his nose (it did happen once)!

Since he is doing better now, I try to encourage him by telling him after class that I’m proud of him for doing such and such. But every time I do that, a small voice inside me tells me not to. After all, isn’t a parent’s love (and pride in the child) supposed to be unconditional? Regardless of his ‘performance’ in various arenas, regardless of what the society’s standards of being ‘good’ are, should I not always be proud of him? Then why do I subconsciously  tell him that I will only be proud of him when he meets those standards – which may not even be the same as my own.

It is commonly said that a parent’s, especially a mother’s love for a child is unconditional. From what I perceive, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. From the minute they are born, we start expecting from them – that they will return our love, do well in school and sports, be nice to others, and in general, grow up to be ‘successful’ adults. If there is so much expectation, the love cannot be unconditional, can it? We may say that we want all this for their own good, but the truth is that we want them to fit in and meet all the benchmarks our society has created for them. So that we can be proud of being parents of achieving, successful children.

So next time, I will keep all of this in mind when I tell my son that I am proud of him. Instead of feeling a little let-down when he is always last in the little warm-up race they have before karate, I will be proud that he is the only kid who runs carefully so that he doesn’t step on other children’s toes. And I will tell him that and mean it too. Because it doesn’t matter if he turns out to be just an average or below-average achiever by society’s standards, I will always be crazy proud of him for being who he is.

As long as he doesn’t send me to an old people’s home…

The colors of nostalgia

We celebrated our first Holi in the United States today. Although we have been here for almost four years now, it was only last year when we actually got to know some Indian people. For some reason, we could not find enough motivation or time to go looking for other desis. Plus we got our social fix from local friends and colleagues from India who used to visit from time to time. That also meant that sometimes we did not do anything to celebrate our festivals. After all, festivals are meant to be celebrated with other people. What fun would it be to celebrate all by yourself? That’s why we always ended up not doing much at all for these special days. It was in fact much easier and more fun celebrating Halloween and Christmas because everyone else around us was doing the same.

Last year was different. There was not one special day that was not celebrated with this new-found group of desi friends. It is a different kind of satisfaction, to meet people whose jokes you can always understand, who are just as crazy as you are about movies and cricket, and to see our son getting to know little bits of his culture even though he still thinks that the Diwali decoration that I got from India is actually for a Christmas tree.

You don’t really understand or realize what you have been missing until you get to experience it again. Keeping up with tradition, we had a Holi get-together at a friend’s place today. We got there, rang their door bell and waited. The door opened and suddenly people came running out to smear our faces with the powder colors called ‘gulaal’. The kids stood there watching with their mouths open, probably wondering what was it that had come over their parents. It will take them some more years to understand what is so much fun about this. Actually, I was a little taken aback too. I had expected it to be just another get-together with a little bit of rubbing gulaal on each others faces just for the sake of doing it. I had almost forgotten about the element of surprise that makes Holi so much fun.

Some of my best childhood memories are of the festival of Holi. Getting out of the house early, armed with gulaal, pichkaris (water guns) and small balloons filled with colored water. Hiding and waiting for our friends and other suspecting victims to come out so we could drench them before they could drench us. Playing with colors until the evening when our parents came to drag us back in. The fast colors that would not wash away and the tints of which would still be on many proud faces the next day at school.

Those were some of the best days of my life and sometimes it makes me sad to think that  those casual days of  no responsibility will never return, that I will never go back to that house on that street and will never meet those friends again. Life changes when you grow up. I just wish that even as adults, we could be as capable of finding happiness in the littlest things, as we did when we were kids. I wish I could be as impulsive and stupid as I was when I used to live in that house on that street, without being judged by anyone. I wish I could skip and jump instead of plain boring walking. Who knows, may be I will do that one of these days. Thanks to my desi friends for reminding me of the child that still lives inside me, I’m pretty sure I will do that one of these days.

The ABCD in our home

The other day, Chetan and Vivaan were watching a Hindi movie. There was a fight scene, immediately followed by a song-and-dance sequence (it was a Hindi movie remember?). I was cooking and listening to their conversation at the same time. It is fun listening when it’s someone else answering his questions and not me. Here’s how the conversation went:

Vivi: Why are they dancing now?

Chetan: Because it’s bollywood.

Vivi: (referring to the actor in the song): Why is he not wearing a shirt?

Chetan: Because he is Salman Khan (a very popular actor notorious for his missing shirts).

Clearly, this boy has never lived in India. If he did, he would never ask silly questions like these. We come into this world knowing Amitabh Bachchan and Madhuri Dixit and the whole choreographed-dances-with-100-dancers-in-the-middle-of-a-fight-scene thing. In fact, we thrive on all of these. What does he know about it, he would-eat-cake-with-a-fork, please and thank-you saying ABCD who thinks blowing the car’s horn is not nice.

I should probably explain what ABCD means in case you have not heard it before. ABCD is an acronym for ‘American Born Confused Desi’. ‘Desi’ is a Hindi word that means ‘local’ or ‘from one’s own country’ and is used to address Indians and South Asians living abroad. Desis who moved to the US early in their lives or were born and brought up here are called ABCDs by the non-ABCDs.  Some people (the ABCDs) may find this term to be offensive, but that doesn’t stop others (the non-ABCDs) from using it.

Living with my son, who has been in the US since he was six months old, gives me plenty of insight into a budding ABCD’s psyche. As much as I want him to be a ‘normal’ child who has no confusion about his identity, I know that is not how it is going to be. I mean the kid thinks it is not normal for Salman Khan to dance without his shirt on. How can he not be an ABCD?

I will continue to share more about his progress. In the meantime, here is a song from Salman Khan’s latest movie that got the ‘nice song but weird video’ award. Enjoy!